Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Under the Veil - Choice or Coercion?

The wearing of the Hijab, or veil, a traditional Muslim custom, denounced as repressive by many, is being observed by increasing numbers of women in Iraq.
In Baghdad, Zahra al-Asady explored the possible reasons for the growing trend. Amer Haider, a law expert at Mustansiriya University, said that the Hijab was an Islamic obligation, aiming at preventing women from wrongdoing.

But Dr Ibtissam Sadoun, a teacher at Mustansiriya University, argued that while wearing a headscarf was a religious custom, many women were now choosing to cover up to protect themselves in a climate of fragile security and growing religious extremism.

Rehab Youssef Nasr, a secondary school student, said she supported the wearing of the Hijab where it was the free choice of the woman herself, but admitted that many of her classmates have veiled under the pressure of Islamic groups.

Writer Rowshan Qasim said she thought the attempt of religious parties to impose the veil on women was a result of the political chaos in Iraq - and a violation of women’s personal freedom.

Sara Abd, a university student, dismissed the idea that the Hijab was a measure of the wearer’s faith, and argued that it was a symbol of backwardness.

Dr Salam Smaism, an adviser at the ministry for civil society affairs, said that wearing the Hijab had taken on political connotations and argued that it's possible to guess the political leanings of female members of the Iraqi parliament from the form of headscarf they wear.